In light of the untimely death of Edward Van Halen, I felt inspired to listen to all of the band's studio work in chronological order. It was such a wonderful experience! It really was the best way to come to terms with his passing, and to enjoy what he gave to the world, to honor his memory.
I thought I would share some of my thoughts after having listened to the full catalog in this way. These are just the thoughts I have after having dived deeply into the wonderful music of Van Halen.
1 - I honestly don't think there's a weak album in the whole catalog. We can say a lot about personal preferences, and there's no accounting for taste, but in terms of the quality of the music, every album is, in my opinion, excellent.
2 - When you listen to the albums back-to-back in chronological order, you get a much better feel for the underlying cohesiveness of the whole catalog. It's tempting to say there was a change in musical direction when Hagar joined the band, but if you listen to the compositions, it's really hard to make that case. 5150 and OU812 are natural, logical progressions from 1984.
3 - In general, all of the Van Hagar albums are extremely underrated. They are consistently musically interesting throughout, and Sammy Hagar was truly an incredible singer.
4 - Anyone who listens to "A Different Kind of Truth" with their ears on can tell that Wolfgang Van Halen is an incredible musician. It's just obvious. I don't understand how anyone could say or think otherwise. He's the bee's knees.
5 - About the only real gripe I have across all their albums is the fact that they did something really strange to Gary Cherone's voice on VHIII. I think if they had produced the vocals better on that album, it would have been better-received. That said, it is a pretty "out there" album for Van Halen, in terms of compositions and the semi-acoustic, softer tones employed, so I'm not surprised that most VH fans dislike it.
6 - For me, the most pleasant surprise was "Balance." I really love the eastern influences and the mystical lyrics. I think it's not Sammy's best vocal album, but the music is really, really good.
7 - Edward Van Halen created a really unique sonic niche with his compositions. There are elements of contemporary jazz seamlessly blended with hard rock and pop rock, and that is such a quirky blend. I think the contemporary jazz elements are what really define the VH sound - sue me! You can hear it! I can even hear the Allan Holdsworth influence. EVH has that same "chord sclaes" approach to his riffs, and yes also to his solos. It's absolutely lovely.
Anyway, if you have the chance to go through all their albums like I did, I encourage you to do so. It's a great experience.